Kenya police chief bans new opposition protests

Kenya police chief bans new opposition protests

Riot police last week fired tear gas and water cannon at rock-hurling rioters
Riot police last week fired tear gas and water cannon at rock-hurling rioters

NAIROBI - Kenya's police chief announced a ban on fresh opposition demonstrations called for Monday, after protests last week degenerated into riots.

"We will not allow violent demonstrations," Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome told reporters on Sunday.

"The demonstrations they plan tomorrow (Monday) are illegal and will not be allowed," he said, adding that his force was ready to keep the peace and would arrest anyone carrying offensive weapons.

Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga has urged people to take to the streets on Monday and Thursday for further anti-government protests against the surging cost of living in Kenya.

Last Monday's demonstrations -- which were also not authorised by police -- descended into violence, with riot police firing tear gas and water cannon at people hurling rocks and setting tyres ablaze.

A university student was killed by police fire while 31 officers were injured in running battles in Nairobi and opposition strongholds in western Kenya, according to police.

More than 200 people were arrested, including several senior opposition politicians, while Odinga's own convoy was hit with tear gas and water cannon.

"You all saw what happened last week and we won't allow that to happen again, where hooligans come to town to loot and destroy people's property and businesses," Koome said.

It was the first major political violence since President William Ruto took office six months ago after beating Odinga in an election his rival claims was "stolen".

- 'Mother of all demonstrations' -

Many Kenyans are struggling to put food on the table, battling high prices for basic goods, a plunging local currency and a record drought that has left millions hungry.

"We call upon all patriotic Kenyans to come out in large numbers on Monday, 27th March 2023, for the mother of all demonstrations and to do so peacefully," Odinga said on Twitter last week.

Ruto, who is leaving the country on Sunday for a trip to Germany and Belgium, has called on the opposition leader to halt the action.

"I am telling Raila Odinga that if he has a problem with me, he should face me and stop terrorising the country," Ruto said on Thursday.

Last week's protests proved costly -- Nairobi lost more than half its daily revenue as people kept away from the central business district, the city's governor Johnson Sakaja said.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said the demonstrations cost the country $15 million.

During the election campaign, Ruto sought to portray himself as the champion of the downtrodden and vowed to improve the lot of ordinary Kenyan or so-called "hustlers".

But he has since removed subsidies for fuel and maize flour -- a dietary staple.

And last week, Kenya's energy regulatory body announced a hike in electricity prices from April 1, despite Ruto insisting in January there would be no such increase.

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